Researching Western privilege in Dubai: a conversation with Saba A. Le Renard

New writing on migration and mobilities – an MMB special series

This is an edited version of an interview with Saba A. Le Renard in Jadaliyya* about their recent book Western Privilege. Work, Intimacy, and Postcolonial Hierarchies in Dubai (Stanford University Press, 2021).

Jadaliyya (J): What made you write the book?

Saba A. Le Renard (SLR): When I was doing my PhD fieldwork about the transforming femininities of young Saudi women fifteen years ago, I was shocked by the stereotypical discourses many French residents I met there held on Saudi people. After finishing my PhD, I started working on the statuses, self-identifications, and practices of Western passport holders, first in Saudi Arabia and then in Dubai. During the courses I had followed in Middle East studies, the statuses of Western passport holders had never been a topic, despite many of this group occupying dominant positions in firms and various administrations of the region. My research started with a willingness to question this status, to make ‘Westerner’ the object rather than the implicit subject of knowledge.

In Dubai, as in many places of the world, having or not having a Western passport produces a clear split. Having one facilitates passage across national borders and represents an important differentiator and ranking criterion within the globalised job market, though how and how much one benefits from it differ, notably, depending on one’s position in gender, class and race hierarchies. The book explores how men and women, white and non-white Western passport holders inhabit the privileged status of ‘Westerner.’ It shows how they perceive Dubai’s social order differently depending on their trajectories, and how they nevertheless participate in reproducing it, for instance by implementing salary differentiation when recruiting, or by routinely racialising other inhabitants, described as ‘locals,’ ‘Arabs,’ Filipinos’ or ‘Indian.’ 

J: What particular topics, issues and literatures does the book address? 

SLR: First, the book contributes to what could be called a postcolonial turn in studies of the Arabian Peninsula, breaking with the longstanding tendency to ignore the imperial history of the region. In this book, I study Westerners not only as privileged migrants but also as local elites, playing a role in the perpetuation of nationality, race, class and gender hierarchies. I deconstruct the discourse presenting Westerners in the Arabian Peninsula as outsiders, having no role in the perpetuation of inequality; this belief is central, I argue, to the construction of their privileged subjectivities. For instance, some parents I interviewed told me that Dubai was great with young kids as it is very practical to have a live-in nanny, but that they planned to leave when their kids would become teenagers, because they did not want the latter to ‘see’ such blatant social injustice. I analysed this need to distance themselves from Dubai’s social order while benefitting from it as a salient element of distinctive Western subjectivities. 

Second, the book aims to contribute to race and migration studies. In the last decade, several authors have criticised the lack of attention for privileged migrants in migration studies. Postcolonial approaches of expatriation, which have shown how whiteness is transformed through migrations, have been very useful to understanding the distinctive subjectivities of Western residents in Dubai. The originality of my approach lies in my choice to compare the trajectories, practices and discourses of white and non-white Western passport holders. It enabled me to identify the specificity of whiteness as a privileged status among Western passport holders (because whiteness, in practice, does remain a privileged position among them), and to make visible the trajectories of non-white Western passport holders that benefit, to a lesser extent, from Western privilege, while also facing forms of stigmatisation and marginalisation. Beyond this, the similarities and contrasts between the two groups reveal how Dubai’s neoliberal discourse on multiculturalism, combined with the use of whiteness in the city’s branding, impact racial categories and produce conditional and limited inclusions. Such reflection echoes works on neoliberalism, multiculturalism and selective inclusions in other contexts, especially the United States and some European countries.

Third, the book is grounded on gender and sexuality studies; it documents how the formation of Westerners as a social group interlocks race, class, gender, sexuality and nationality. Postcolonial feminism as well as intersectionality are important inspirations for such approach. I argue that beside professional aspects, Western distinction lies on specific forms of heteronormativity. On the one hand, Western, white, upper-class couples, in spite of a clear labour division among spouses, identify with gender equality and women’s emancipation in contrast with ‘others’ represented as oppressed or sexist, or as frustrated sexual predators. On the other hand, single Westerners often long for serious, authentic relations, which they present as impossible in Dubai. Many associate authentic love with the West and Westerners, in contrast to Dubai’s so-called materialism and superficiality. By analysing specific models of heteronormativity among Western residents and how they participate in making boundaries between them and ‘others,’ I hope this book brings a contribution to Middle East feminist studies, which have been developing postcolonial and queer approaches in the last decades. 

J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have? 

SLR: I hope people interested in the Middle East, in race and migration studies, and in gender and feminist studies will read the book. I think it could help question how Western researchers position themselves while in the field, and also nourish the wider discussion that is currently developing about racialisation in the region.

Since the book is also inspired by race and migration studies and gender and sexuality studies focused on other contexts, I hope it will interest people working in these fields beyond the Middle East. While Dubai has an awful reputation among many intellectual bourgeoisies, some Western passport holders experience it as less racist than their home societies (for instance, France or the United States) and many women consider its streets as more secure than their home cities. As these two elements suggest, Dubai is an interesting society to better understand transnational racial formations, structural racism, gender regimes and the policing of public spaces—impacting gender, race, class, sexuality and nationality hierarchies.

Saba A. Le Renard is a Researcher in Sociology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris. They are currently researching the place of ‘Westerners’ in the multinational professional worlds of Riyadh and Dubai. You can see them interviewed about their book Western Privilege in a forthcoming recording for MMB Insights and Sounds 2022.

* This interview has been edited and republished here with kind permission of Jadaliyya, the independent ezine produced by the Arab Studies Institute. The original, longer version, published in November 2021 and including an excerpt from Western Privilege, can be found here. Please note that Saba’s book was published under a first name that they no longer use.

The bifurcated migration lexicon and trend-defying trajectories

New writing on migration and mobilities – an MMB special series

By Rose Jaji.

The migration lexicon has consolidated itself around an either/or rather than both-and schematic in which categories resulting from a binary classification of regions and countries have acquired unquestioned normativity. This normativity is evident in what can be termed a regionalised division of migration labour. Binary classifications portray mobile people and the spaces involved in their mobility in mutually exclusive terms, exemplified by the classification of countries as either sending or receiving rather than as both sending and receiving. This occurs in a broader context in which the global South is depicted as the antithesis of the global North. A predictable outcome of this is the alignment of motivations for migration with regions of origin and destination, which can be seen in the dubious and regionalised distinction between expatriates and economic migrants. This reflection is based on my research on migration from the global North to Zimbabwe.

The bifurcated migration lexicon has a blind spot for trend-defying trajectories towards destinations that do not conform to the conventional destination profile built around economic and political stability, high ranking on global economic, development and governance indices and high ranking on the Global Passport Power Rank. When trained on countries that conform to this profile, the migration studies lens zooms in on conspicuous immigration from which these countries acquire the label ‘receiving countries’ in the classificatory binary. This renders invisible non-conforming destinations that are unquestioningly named as sending countries because they are associated with economic decline, political instability, low ranking on global indices, low positions on the Global Passport Power Rank and visible emigration that often contributes to terms such as ‘exodus’, ‘flood’ and ‘influx’.

The bifurcated migration lexicon is apparent in the way in which different motivations are attributed to North-South and South-North trajectories, which is due to perception of the regions as antithetical and lacking in internal heterogeneity. This conceals internal contradictions and leads to regions being aligned with specific drivers of migration along with a corresponding regionalisation of verbs and nouns in the migration vocabulary. As a result, people moving to the global North are identified as economic migrants and asylum seekers/refugees while those moving to the global South are named expatriates and lifestyle migrants. The hostility experienced by the former comes from their depiction as beneficiaries who arrive to receive and earn. In contrast, the hospitality extended to the latter derives from their portrayal as benefactors who arrive to help and spend. The South-North trajectory is accordingly depicted as involving migration (needed but unwelcome) whereas the North-South trajectory is presumed to comprise mobility (wanted and welcome) (Anderson 2017; Castles 2010; Faist 2013). Mobile people supposedly move because of desire and choice while those who migrate seemingly do so out of compulsion, which gives their movement a tragic aspect. This feeds into the subtle but evocative distinction between travelling and fleeing as well as into the invisibility of travelers compared with the conspicuousness of economic migrants and refugees. The term travelling comes to embody self-sufficiency and the norm while flight becomes the anatomy of helplessness, the anomalous and even dangerous (Jaji 2020).

The dichotomous naming of mobilities based on their trajectories and presumed motivations leads to different mobility opportunities, which are considered more desirable or less so depending on how the mobile people and the places they come from are categorised. This is symbolised by how passports function as nationalised and politicised text inscribed on mobile people’s bodies (Jaji 2020). Passport rankings determine elevation of social status (Pogonyi 2018) or demotion depending on how the passport is ranked. Differential naming of mobile people creates varying opportunities for inclusion in the global economy; favourable immigration policies are created for highly skilled migrants while low-skilled migrants and refugees encounter exclusionary policies (Castles 2013).

The binary classifications that constitute the migration lexicon obscure migration trajectories and motivations that transgress the normative or orthodox. This transgression is exemplified by migration from the global North to Zimbabwe, a country that appears in migration studies as a homogenised sending country. However, Zimbabwe defies dominant narratives by straddling boundaries between the sending, receiving and transit categories. As a destination country for North-South migration, Zimbabwe demonstrates that the normative and conventional can be found in the aberrant; the periphery is not necessarily without a core. The country also blends the diverse and contradictory, thus transgressing the either/or and projecting the both-and schematic.

Zimbabwe, a country with low rankings on GDP, IHDI, Governance and Human Security indices, projects the hallmarks of a sending country at the same time as it deviates from the linear and unidirectional migration of the sending-receiving country binary. As a sending, receiving and transit country, it defies essentialist categorisation of countries through occupying a non-binary space. It also challenges bifurcated labelling of mobile people as either economic migrants or asylum seekers/refugees because it generates mixed migration (Crush, Chikanda and Tawodzera 2015). As a country in dire straits offering opportunities for upward social mobility to migrants from affluent parts of the world, the country shakes the stability and consistency with which the nation-state framework conceptualises migration, space and trajectories thus illustrating the limitations of using the nation-state as a framework for studying and understanding migration.

Trend-defying trajectories warrant a review of the bifurcated migration lexicon, which renders such mobilities obscure and trivial. They call for critical reflection on the nation-state’s reductionist conceptualisation, categorisation and interpretation of contemporary human mobility. Trend-defying trajectories towards a boundary-transgressing destination demonstrate the mutual mediation of the nation-state and individual motivations evident in transnational activities. They challenge reductionist tendencies inherent in essentialist binary categorisations. This calls for a nuanced conversation that addresses commonalities in motivations that cut across the North-South and sending-receiving divides. Categories need to emerge from inherent aspects of mobilities rather than artificial differences engendered by regionalised power relations.

Rose Jaji is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Zimbabwe and Senior Researcher at the German Institute of Development and Sustainability, Bonn. Her research areas of interest are migration/refugees, conflict and peacebuilding. Rose’s most recent book is Deviant Destinations: Zimbabwe and North to South Migration (2019, Rowman and Littlefield), which she discusses in an interview with Sarah Kunz for MMB Insights and Sounds 2022.

Organising against fear: migrant nannies and domestic workers during COVID

New writing on migration and mobilities – an MMB special series

By Maud Perrier

Migrant nannies and domestic workers were largely absent from mainstream feminist commentary during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as from public discussion of childcare. In the UK broadsheets, most of the media coverage of the childcare crisis during this time was dominated by stories of working mothers’ struggles to manage caring for children and working from home. The unequal division of labour between men and women, and fears about women’s stalled careers and promotion gaps in the near future, were the main sources of middle-class feminist anxiety. As Veronica Deutsch argues the middle-classes expertise as orators of their own suffering along with pandemic-induced nationalism combined to position migrant nannies as out of reach from public sympathy.

(Image: Félix Prado on Unsplash)

The depiction of the pandemic as representing the ‘death of the working mother’ reproduced a white liberal feminist analysis that simultaneously privileged individual professional success and invisibilised these women’s reliance on paid childcare. At the same time the demand for live-in nannies as a safe option increased substantially and there was mounting evidence globally that domestic workers faced heightened restrictions on their movements and ability to see their families, and that many faced unemployment, homelessness and death after catching the virus at work. Two years on from the start of COVID, how can we centre the experiences of migrant and racialised minority nannies’ who organised during the pandemic to shift how we think about solidarity and care between women across ‘race’ and migration status?

Between October 2020 and February 2021, I carried out interviews with nanny organisers through two worker-led grass-roots organisations – one with migrant nannies in the UK and the other with nannies and domestic workers in the US – to learn how their organising changed during the pandemic. The Boston-based organisers belong to the Matahari Women Workers’ Centre, a medium-sized long-established organisation, but the London Nanny Solidarity Network was only established during COVID. The Nanny Solidarity Network was set up to respond to the destitution that migrant nannies in West London faced during the pandemic and within a few weeks was delivering English-language training, mutual aid, welfare support and immigration/employment legal advice to more than 100 members.

Across both sites, my interviewees reported that for many nannies in their organisations their relationships with parent-employers significantly worsened during the pandemic and were characterised by increased fear and vulnerability. Nannies recounted stories of employers breaking lockdown rules and not following social-distancing regulations. One interviewee was asked to come into work after her employer’s family returned from a trip abroad without following quarantine rules. Another was asked to look after a friend’s child without considering the heightened risk of transmission for the nanny. Anastancia Cuna, a well-known domestic worker organiser, aptly describes these situations as employers capitalising on the economic conditions of the pandemic.

To fight this climate of fear, the Domestic Employers Network successfully developed resources to empower workers to navigate this increased vulnerability – for example, COVID contracts and guidance about safe working, which workers could use to hold their employers to account. The conversation guide includes the discussion of procedures adopted to reduce exposure when someone tests positive, as well as transport and entering work routines. It also includes a section recommending that employers commit to higher rates of pay during the pandemic and agree to give nannies paid time off for sickness or for relatives’ sickness. These documents form an important part of the organisation’s praxis empowering workers to refuse to give in to fear. The resources suggest quite a different story about how to negotiate deepening divisions during the pandemic, which highlights the importance of formal legal frameworks in building solidarity. At a time when few governments offered any formal protection for these workers, a last resort was to appeal to employers’ consciences about their legal responsibilities.

The pandemic put on hold the well-documented organising that is historically carried out by nannies in public parks across the globe, as well as their shame demonstrations outside employers’ homes. But organisations like the Nanny Solidarity Network and Matahari Women Workers’ Center developed methods to continue building worker power virtually through online assemblies. They also managed the distribution of state aid in the US via the National Domestic Workers Alliance and in the UK through mutual aid. But interviewees emphasised that temporarily becoming a cash assistance organisation proved challenging at times as it contradicted their aim of building worker power. Online spaces of sociality were also vital sources of community survival for unemployed workers throughout and beyond the pandemic in both countries.

Pre pandemic, discussions of teachers’ and childcare workers’ strikes assumed that solidarity between parents and teachers and between lecturers and students would act as a strategic wedge in labour relations, which neoliberal senior managers underestimated at their peril. Jane McAveley describes these ties as the ‘ace up the sleeve’ of care workers who can mobilise their ties to the community to their advantage in such disputes. My research showed that while nannies in the UK and the US may not be able to count on such direct community solidarity, they have developed alternative techniques of building allyship and community within a hostile environment.

Scholars and activists have long been calling for more intimate organising in feminised sectors whereby the relational ties between caregivers and care-receivers are leveraged to secure gains from employers and governments. What these nannies’ voices suggest is that the question of intimacy with whom needs to be much more at the centre of this discussion post pandemic. This requires careful consideration if more worker-led migrant organisations are to join coalitions with low-income parents and low-paid childcare workers – such as the Care that Works coalition – which are powerful enough to hold states to account for their disappearing act.

Maud Perrier is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol. Her research focuses on care workers’ organising, social reproduction theory, motherhood and maternal workers, socialist feminist movements in UK, North America and Australia. Her most recent book is Childcare Struggles, Maternal Workers and Social Reproduction (Bristol University Press, 2022). A recording of the book launch with MMB Director Bridget Anderson is available here.

Mobility and mobilization – narrating injustices

New writing on migration and mobilities – an MMB special series

By Hager Ben Driss.

Stephen Greenblatt defines ‘mobilizers’ as ‘agents, go-betweens, translators, or intermediaries’ (Cultural Mobility: A Manifesto p. 251) and contends that their function as contact facilitators should be included in mobility studies. This concept of mobilization serves as an ethical lever of my new edited volume Mobilizing Narratives: Narrating Injustices of (Im)Mobility (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2021). But how can editing a book be considered an act of mobilization? The answer is contingent on one’s conception of editing. Editing, in my opinion, is based on mobility, a dynamic intellectual movement between the editor and authors. The editor’s role is to synchronize writing motions and rally texts to serve a purpose. From this perspective, I am more of a mobilizer than a mere assembler of papers, because I was able to raise the attention of several scholars and rally interest to current mobility injustices.

This book explores the dynamic interplay between (im)mobility, injustice and narration. Its chief objective is to foreground the continua and connections at the heart of mobility and immobility as well as justice and injustice. While my conception of the whole book is informed by Mimi Sheller’s seminal Mobility Justice (2018), I opted to utilize ‘(Im)Mobility’ and ‘Injustice’ as key words in the title. Using parentheses to separate immobility from mobility is not only a typographical device to foreground immobility, but also a mode to highlight the visual and phonetic inseparability of the two terms. As for advancing the term ‘injustice’, I am mainly indebted to Judith N. Shklar’s compelling text The Faces of Injustice (2005), as well as to Miranda Fricker’s Epistemic Injustice (2007). In the collection’s introduction, I provide a working definition of (im)mobility injustice inspired by Fricker’s definition of epistemic injustice:

I call (im)mobility injustice the wrong done to someone in their capacity as an (im)mobile agent, and thus in a capacity essential to human life. Such an injustice occurs when someone’s movement or stasis are damaged. Therefore, we might say that this injustice is caused by prejudice in the economy of (im)mobility. This (im)mobility deficit damages the subject’s humanity to the extent that they are degraded qua (im)mobile subjects, and they are degraded qua humans.

Mobilizing Narratives: Narrating Injustices of (Im)Mobility seeks to fill a gap in mobility research. The volume sustains an emphasis on pressing the boundaries of mobility studies to the realm of literary studies, as well as attempting to create spaces for debate and exchange between literature, sociology and other related fields. It maintains the aim to reflect on the reciprocal exchange between (im)mobilities and narrative practices. Literary production has the capacity to gauge the power of discourses undergirding (im)mobility injustices. The book adds a new intervention in the field of mobility studies. Its focus on (im)mobility and injustice is reinforced by foregrounding the capacity of literature to marshal emotions and values. It is also attentive to the power of narratives to mobilize a sustained critique of uneven (im)mobility.

The volume takes up the task of politicizing motion and inertness by answering one of the pressing questions raised in relation to mobility and immobility injustice: Who enjoys a full claim to (im)mobility and who is denied this right? The eight chapters that constitute this book address coerced movement and stasis in conjunction with travel, immigration, identity, colonization, gender and environment. They engage in a text-based approach within a deliberate move to synchronize mobility studies and literary studies. Through diverse lenses of analysis, they demonstrate that (im)mobility is not mere motion or stasis; it is an apparatus of power. Like any other product, (im)mobility justice is differentially and unequally distributed.

While the rationale behind this collection is to bring attention to the injustices associated with various forms of (im)mobility, it also maintains the goal of enhancing a collective consciousness, accountability and redress, hence mobilization. The book’s ultimate objective is to advance (a)kinetic ethics, or the ethics of (im)mobility. Shklar’s philosophy of injustice provides us with a comprehensive understanding of the ethical issue at the heart of uneven (im)mobility: ‘To have no idea of what it means to be treated unjustly is to have no moral knowledge, no moral life’ (p. 15). Research into (im)mobility is fundamentally a venture to ethicize as well as politicize movement and stasis.

Hager Ben Driss is Associate Professor at the University of Tunis. Her research centers on postcolonial and gender studies. She is editor of Knowledge: Trans/Formations (2013), Women, Violence, and Resistance (2017), and Mobilizing Narratives: Narrating Injustices of (Im)Mobility (2021).

Ordinary: a new approach to work in migration research

New writing on migration and mobilities – an MMB special series

By Dora-Olivia Vicol.

In the world of mobility research, scholars have long cast a critical look at work. In most immigration regimes in the Global North, worker status is what is used to distinguish between those who are allowed to migrate and those who are forced into immobility or nudged into the arms of smugglers. Save for the niche investor visas, most visas are open to migrants who have secured, or are willing to take up, particular forms of employment, often in shortage occupations or in occupations clustered at the low paid end of the labour market. Relatedly, hard work in everyday discourse is often stereotypically depicted as the quality of the ideal migrant – conscientious, undemanding, accepting of tough jobs and routinely juxtaposed against the caricature of the lazy native, as illustrated in current debates about labour shortages in the fruit picking sector.

But what if there was another way to look at work, beyond its deployment in the management of mobility? What if we shifted focus away from the macro study of labour markets, with their binaries of decent and precarious jobs, and observed work in the everyday, through the eyes of people who find in it a source of individual self-making, relationship building and critical imagination?

This is what a dozen ethnographers have come together to explore in the new edited collection Beyond the Wage: Ordinary Work in Diverse Economies (Bristol University Press 2021). We start from the premise that work is too often examined through the lens of absence. Take Marxian accounts. Work in capitalist economies is described as the absence of individual autonomy; one has no choice but to sell one’s labour, and with it one’s agency. Or take the vast literature on precariousness. At its core, precarious work is defined as poorly paid, insecure and devoid of the most basic requisites of a decent life. Both accounts mount formidable critiques against political economies premised on inequality and provide a rallying cry for activists. But they also leave much unsaid about how workers themselves practice, imagine and politicise their work, beyond a focus on material conditions.

Firmly rooted in the tradition of participant observation, contributors to the book challenge readers to examine work in its everyday diversity. The complex world of work, we argue, cannot be understood by looking only at what it is lacking. Waged employment, that standard of a fulfilling, well-paying job against which work has generally been measured, is more an ideal than a contemporary reality. Most people in the Global South, and an increasing number of people in the Global North, work in arrangements that differ wildly from it, as ILO reports show. Focusing only on how they measure against this standard of waged employment imposes a concept developed in industrialised economies, overlooking the diverse ways in which work around the world intersects with relations of kinship, patronage, social reproduction or self-fashioning. More worryingly, it reproduces the definition of a deserving life as a waged life, used by hostile immigration regimes to exclude migrants from the Global South.

To capture this diversity, the book proposes to examine ordinary work – the act of provisioning for material wants and needs that encompasses a range of practices from hustling to contract-bound employment, beyond the familiar binaries of formal and informal, or precarious and decent.

What, then, can the lens of ordinary work bring to the study of mobility? First, the richness of ethnographic work. When our craft is the study of migration, it is easy to turn from researcher into activist. Concepts like precarity offer a powerful rallying cry and a target for policy interventions. Doesn’t everyone deserve better jobs in the formal economy? And yet, history is replete with examples where policies faltered because they failed to understand the worlds of the people they were affecting. Think, for instance, of the UK labour standards authorities’ calls on workers to report exploitation and unmask their bosses – when so many of them are exploited by people they trust, or who wield significant power over them and their families. Studying work in its ordinary form foregrounds workers and their own means of inhabiting their conditions, bringing to the fore the tensions and contradictions in contemporary policy agendas.

Second, taking the everydayness of work seriously can carve out further space for agency in conversation about migrant jobs. A wealth of research has pointed to the ways in which migrants are relegated to the low paid end of the labour market. Scholars have documented how immigration controls, the lopsided relation of power between worker and employer, and employers’ own raced and gendered expectations of their staff cumulate to normalise exploitation. And yet, as my informants recounted time and again, the unscrupulous employers who were paying them at half the minimum wage were also ‘family men’, ‘good people from my village’, and people who ‘helped me make something out of myself’. I had started my PhD research looking to expose precarity among Romanian migrant networks. I concluded it reflecting on the ways in which friendship and patronage can coexist in tension. In the everyday, exploitation does not preclude migrants’ own personal ambition, tactics of resistance, humour and self-care. 

Third, thinking about ordinary work allows for different politics. The literature on the future of work is often driven by concepts developed in the Global North. Calls to formalise or even end work altogether have a distinctive genealogy in the lecture theatres of industrialised economies. But as the final section of our book illustrates, a world without work can be puzzling for Romanian migrants to London, who have built their sense of self upon their ability to provide, or for residents of a Namibian village who suspected Universal Basic Income of cultivating poor morals. Without a predetermined hierarchy of good and bad employment, the study of ordinary work encourages sensibilities and practices observed in the Global South to cast new theoretical inspiration upon the study of work in the Global North, as well as those who move between and unsettle these domains. 

Dora-Olivia Vicol is an anthropologist with a long-standing interest in mobility. She is CEO of the Work Rights Centre charity and post-doctoral affiliate at COMPAS, University of Oxford. Beyond the Wage: Ordinary Work in Diverse Economies (2021) is available from Bristol University Press.

Forced labour in supply chains: missing links between industrial and sexual labour

New writing on migration and mobilities – an MMB special series

By Rutvica Andrijasevic.

I was in the midst of fieldwork researching the working conditions of migrant workers in the electronics industry in Central and Eastern Europe when the press ran the story about Serbian workers working and living in slavery-like conditions in Slovakia. Various articles in Serbian press, culminating with the report of a journalist who worked undercover in the Samsung Slovak factory, denounced the latter for treating workers like slaves without any rights. These reports were corroborated by the Belgrade-based NGO Anti Trafficking Action (ASTRA), which explained that the exploitation and violation of rights of Serbian workers in Slovakia is widespread not only in electronics but also in automobile and food industries.

Despite being in possession of formal contracts issued by temporary work agencies that recruited them in Serbia, workers were the subject of fraud and deception with respect to pay, working time, health insurance and social security contributions. They were locked into contracts whereby they were liable to pay damages to the employer if they left or switched employers during the probation period. If workers did not work or were fired, they had to pay for the accommodation themselves and were required to leave the dormitory immediately. In case of irregularities, workers were unclear whom to contact as they worked at plant in Slovakia but were recruited by a Serbian agency, signed a contract with a Hungarian agency and then were paid by a Slovak agency.

Overall, as Tonia Novitz and myself discussed in a recent article, this is a workforce trapped within a labour engagement that they have entered voluntarily but found difficult to exit, tied into a contract with a particular employer, under the threat of a financial penalty and/or non-payment of wages, subject to illicit deductions from pay, vulnerable to deportation, risking homelessness because of tied accommodation, isolated by geography and language, and distant from any meaningful legal protection. The case of Serbian workers in Slovakia exemplifies, as we have argued elsewhere, a regulatory failure of the current legal and corporate regulatory matrix to protect workers and prevent the conditions in which unfree labour can thrive.

What struck me in the Serbian-Slovak case was the similarity between Serbian workers’ working and living conditions and those of migrant women in the sex industry that I have researched in the past. Tellingly, it was the NGO ASTRA, with expertise in assisting the ‘victims’ of human trafficking, that took upon themselves the task of drawing policy makers’ attention and demanding that the government protects the rights of Serbian workers.

Yet, while on the ground there seems to be quite strong parallels between exploitation of migrant workers in the electronics assembly and those in the sex industry, academic literature draws strong lines of demarcation between the two groups of migrants. In fact, the scholarship on unfree labour in supply chains that studies industrial labour and that on human trafficking that examines sexual exploitation are separate and distinct bodies of research.

I suggest that what links the sectors of industrial and sexual labour is not only similarities of forms of control over migrant workers but also legal classification of their work. As I explain in my recent article ‘Forced labour in supply chains: Rolling back the debate on gender, migration and sexual commerce’, the separate treatment of sexual and industrial labour exploitation both by researchers and in law and policy has inadvertently posited sexual labour as the ‘other’ of industrial labour. Consequently, this separation has obfuscated how the legal blurring of boundaries between industrial and service labour is engendering new modalities of the erosion of workers’ rights that are increasingly resembling those typical of sex work.

It is perhaps understandable that scholars of unfree labour in supply chains discount debates on human trafficking, as they do not want to get caught up in vehement discussions over whether sexual labour constitutes economic activity or violence against women. Yet, to do so is to overlook the large body of work on human trafficking by migration, post-colonial and transnational feminist scholars who have shown the interdependency between sexual labour, industrial labour and broader economic development. It is also to overlook the fact that unfree labour pivots on forms of control and exploitation, whether by employers or the states, that are embedded in normative assumptions about gender and sexuality.

This is the image at the back of the business card of a workers’ dormitory in Slovakia, where some of the migrant workers mentioned in the opening paragraph were housed. The image is striking for its overtly sexualised overtones. The shape and the colour of the dress and the inviting and provocative bodily position bring up an immediate association with women working in a strip club rather than in an assembly plant. Dormitories, located in the proximity of assembly plants, merge the productive and reproductive spheres in order to enable employers to extend control from the factory floor to workers’ sleeping and living quarters, thus extracting additional value from workers’ ‘private’ lives. The overtly sexualised overtones of the image remind us, time and time again, that gender and sexuality shape both production arrangements and social relations of reproduction so as to enable labour’s enrolment into regimes of capital accumulation.

It is my suggestion that researchers concerned with understanding and eradicating forced labour from supply chains should look at the critical literature on trafficking for sexual exploitation to understand both the mechanisms that employers use to confine workers and the ways in which capital mobilizes difference to extract value from labour. Sexualizing of labouring bodies is, after all, the very condition for the expansion of transnational capital.

Rutvica Andrijasevic is Associate Professor in International Migration and Business at the University of Bristol. Her current research investigates the globalisation of Chinese firms and how ‘Chinese’ modes of production and management are engendering new migration flows in Europe.

Addressing discomfort: the politics and ethics of representation in qualitative research

By the Critical Methodologies Collective.

The Politics and Ethics of Representation in Qualitative Research (2021), published in July by Routledge, draws on experiences from nine different PhD projects. These have been brought together by our Critical Methodologies Collective to offer insights into the politics and ethics of representation for researchers working on justice struggles. Moments of discomfort in the qualitative research process provide important sites of knowledge for exploring representational practices. We argue that these moments help us gain essential insights into the methodological, theoretical, ethical and political issues crucial for the fields with which we engage. While the moments of discomfort opened up in this book are specific to our particular research processes, we hope that they will resonate with similar dilemmas in other fields and contexts and disciplines.

Front cover design by Sarah Hirani

Grounded in empirical research, the book is relevant to students, postgraduates, researchers, practitioners, activists and others dealing with methodological dilemmas from a critical perspective. Instead of ignoring discomforts or describing them as solved, we stay with them, showing how such a reflective process provides new and ongoing insights. Working on this book has involved not only countless collective writing days and a collaborative editorial process but also workshops with some of the scholars who inspire us, namely: Bridget Anderson (June 2019); Yasmin Gunaratnam (August 2019); Johanna Esseveld (January 2020); and Diana Mulinari (June 2020).

All our studies are politically committed to different struggles for social justice: from queer recognition of non-binary sex characteristics, through asylum rights and migrants’ rights, to antiracist critique. In some chapters, ethical and political dilemmas related to representational practices are analysed as experienced in fieldwork. In others, the focus is on the production of representation at the stage of writing. Meanwhile others draw parallels between these stages. The book deals with questions such as: what does it mean to write about the lives of others? How are the ethics and politics of representation intertwined, and how are they distinct? How are the politics of representation linked to a practice of solidarity in research? What are the im/possibilities of hope and care in research?

These questions are considered in terms of accountability. Representational practices in research, like any other representational practices, always involve a process of translation. Such a process carries with it the inherent violence of transformation, reduction or obliteration. In so doing, it opens up the dilemmas of the ethics of representation. Such general questions of research ethics should, however, not be divorced from those concerning research politics. As we have learned from work on representation in the feminist, critical and postcolonial field, these processes are deeply implicated in the power relations of societies in which the research is taking place. In this sense, creating a representation is always a political endeavour – and likewise for critical research concerned with issues of justice.

Structuralist and semiotic traditions teach us how representational practices operate, while critical, feminist and postcolonial traditions encourage us to contextualise these practices in particular historical moments to explore how they impose, maintain or resist unjust social structures. Thus, accountability for us is about being accountable towards both individuals (research participants) and the justice project in which we are engaged. In many of the projects discussed in this book, this question is complicated by the fact that researchers often face competing or even conflicting accountabilities. Most importantly, tensions might occur between accountability towards the research participants and accountability towards political struggles in which the research project is situated.

Representation is also analysed in relation to solidarity and accountability. Some key questions that we pose to ourselves in this context are: what modes of representation are both ethically accountable to those represented in the study and politically accountable in the context of contentious struggles for justice? Furthermore, what if these two types of accountabilities not only diverge but even remain in tension? What stories are we to tell, how do we tell them, and how do we ‘get hold of them’? These questions are also related to the very production of this book. Signing the agreement with the publisher required us to reflect upon: how would we resolve the editorship with several members? Who should stand as editors? Furthermore, how could the ideals of working as a collective be translated into the legal language of copyrights and liabilities?

These questions required us to recollect the beginning and making of this group. The Collective started as a small group of doctoral students in 2012 who met regularly to read and discuss texts from queer, feminist, materialist and decolonial/postcolonial scholars that helped us situate, problematise and liberate our research practices and discomforts. This process helped us articulate what was necessary for the group and what visions we had in collective writing. However, it also showed that going against the norm in academic publishing requires not only inventiveness but also extra labour. Thus, we decided that the Collective stands as overall editor of the book and author of some individual chapters. To make this formally possible, we registered the Collective as a legal association.

The Critical Methodologies Collective consists of nine feminist researchers early in their careers with a shared interest in, and discomfort of, doing critical research. The members come from varied social, political and academic backgrounds, with roots and routes in Denmark, Finland, India, Iran, Poland, Sweden, Turkey and the UK. One of these researchers, Pankhuri Agarwal, is the MMB Early Career Representative.

The Politics and Ethics of Representation in Qualitative Research: Addressing Moments of Discomfort was published by Routledge in July and can be accessed free online here.

Maritime mobility and literary culture: ‘Hamlet’ off the coast of Sierra Leone

New writing on migration and mobilities – an MMB special series

By Laurence Publicover.

In 1607 three East India Company (EIC) ships set off on the company’s third voyage, aiming to break into the lucrative spice trade dominated by Portugal for the previous century. As the first to reach mainland India, this voyage has clear significance for histories of globalization and English (later British) imperialism. But it is also of interest to literary historians, as it provided the occasion for the first recorded performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Or at least, it might have done – the documentary evidence leaves plenty of room for doubt. In any case, this (possible) performance of Hamlet off the coast of what we now call Sierra Leone, perhaps before an African audience, is good to think with. It might, for example, prompt us to consider how Shakespeare’s works became both a tool for imperialism – his plays have found a prominent place in colonial curricula, including in India – and a means by which colonial subjects could ‘speak back’ to the imperial centre through adaptation and reinterpretation. If Shakespeare is a global playwright, then it seems apt that the earliest performance record we have of Hamlet – perhaps his most important play – relates not to London, but to a voyage that helped shape global history.

All this is very enticing. But as someone who works across Shakespeare studies and oceanic studies, I am also interested in this episode for other reasons. To borrow Hamlet’s words, what might have been ‘the purpose of playing’ during an EIC voyage?

‘A fleet of East Indiamen at Sea’ by Nicholas Pocock, 1803 (image: Wikimedia Commons)

The idea that literary culture shapes maritime culture – and vice versa – sits at the heart of Shipboard Literary Cultures: Reading, Writing, and Performing at Sea, a volume of essays I have edited with the social historian Susann Liebich (University of Heidelberg). Currently in production at Palgrave Macmillan, the book examines the literary cultures of vessels ranging from a man-of-war anchored off the coast of Plymouth during the English Civil War (1642-51) to the container ships that traverse our oceans today. Individuals explored within specific chapters include anxious migrants on the three-month ‘Australia run’ from England, a young girl on her father’s whaleship, troops travelling from New Zealand to Europe to fight in the First World War, and American college students circumnavigating the globe aboard the ‘Floating University’ around a decade later.

Our contributors demonstrate how, in their various ways, these seafarers came to terms with their situation through ‘literary’ strategies: by putting on plays, producing newspapers or circulating reading materials as a way of building morale and a sense of community; and through private acts of reading and diary-writing that, among other things, helped maintain mental health and personal identity in the extraordinary circumstances occasioned by sea travel.

If mariners really did perform Hamlet off the coast of Sierra Leone in 1607, then this was not, in fact, the most significant way in which literary culture shaped the third EIC voyage. When floundering in mid-Atlantic and on the point of returning to England for fresh supplies, EIC officers decided instead to seek provisions on the West African coast after reading about Sierra Leone in Richard Hakluyt’s compendium of voyage narratives, The Principal Navigations (1589). What was this book – which includes narratives of mythical as well as actual voyages – doing on board? Did someone bring it along for just such an eventuality? Or was this the re-purposing of a book carried for other reasons?

Front page of The Principal Navigations by Richard Hakluyt (1589) (image: Wikimedia Commons)

If Hamlet was performed, then we must assume the seafarers were carrying a copy of the play, too: either the shorter 1603 version, or the longer 1604 version more familiar to us today. Was this copy similarly repurposed – carried as personal reading material, but transformed into a performance text when the need arose? And what was that need, exactly?

Some scholars have argued that the performance of Hamlet was designed to establish closer relations with the rulers of what was, for the EIC, a strategic stopping-off point on the journey around Africa. Given that plays were often performed before ambassadors in early modern London, this certainly seems feasible. But it is also possible that Hamlet was staged for the benefit of the English crew: as more than one contributor to Shipboard Literary Cultures argues, theatrical performance at sea could provide a welcome distraction – even a necessary release valve – for those cooped up together on a long voyage.

Over the next year I will be advising on The Hamlet Voyage, a project developed by the director Ben Prusiner that considers the wider resonances of the EIC voyage. The play, which is being written by Rex Obano and features puppetry directed by the Delhi-based Anurupa Roy, will be performed aboard The Matthew – a replica of the ship in which John Cabot crossed the Atlantic in 1497 – at the 2022 Bristol Harbour Festival.

We are interested in how the 1607 voyage points forward to the British colonization of India; we wish also to explore the fact that, only a few decades earlier, an English ship had carried enslaved people from Sierra Leone to the Caribbean (this was the voyage read about in The Principal Navigations). Sierra Leone was later to become a key node in the triangular trade.

In these ways, then, the 1607 voyage asks us to reflect on the history and the legacy of British imperialism. But it also asks us to think about the wider experience of crossing oceans. What is it like to head towards an unknown destination, losing sight of land for weeks at a time? What, in such circumstances, might help us assuage our fear, or our boredom? What might help us build relationships with those sharing our experience? What might help maintain a connection with home?

Different conditions of voyaging will, of course, determine the answers to these questions. But across different centuries, cultures and vessel types, literary activity – and perhaps especially communal performance – has helped people cope with the hardships and perils of maritime mobility. Studying the records of such activities can help us imagine the experiences of those who crossed oceans in the past; and in turn, it may help us overcome the ‘seablindess’ that – alongside other factors – prevents us from thinking about those who cross them today.

Laurence Publicover is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Bristol and the MMB Graduate Studies Strategic Lead. His research focuses on Shakespeare and other English Renaissance dramatists and on the relations between humans and oceans. Shipboard Literary Cultures: Reading, Writing, and Performing at Sea (2022) is published by Palgrave Macmillan. The introduction is open access.

Britain as the spoils of empire

Race, nation and migration – the blog series reframing thinking on movement and racism.

By Nadine El-Enany.

My parents travelled from Egypt to Britain in 1977, moving from London to Exeter, a city in the South West of England, in 1978. For my parents, Exeter was a place they felt fortunate to have found, an idyll far from the noisy, crowded streets of Cairo. They made Exeter their home. Yet 40 years later, when my father retired, a neighbour asked him when he would be going back to Egypt.  Still, my parents are the lucky ones. They came to Britain on an aeroplane, study visas in hand. They did not have to travel by boat, or in the back of a lorry risking their lives.

‘Bordering Britain’ is not only the centuries long legal and political process that my recent book traces: it is also a mindset. Hanging over my parents will always be the assumption that their life in Britain is contingent and temporary. Immigration law teaches white British citizens that Britain and everything within it is rightfully theirs. ‘Others’ are here as guests. I challenge this by showing how British immigration and nationality law is an extension of British colonialism. I argue that Britain’s borders, articulated and policed via immigration laws, maintain the global racial order established by colonialism, whereby colonised peoples are dispossessed of land and resources. Britain is not only bordered, but also racially and colonially ordered, through the operation of immigration control.

Britain would not be the wealthy, plentiful place that it is without its colonial history. Colonialism and slavery were key to its industrialisation and the growth of its capitalist economy (see Draper 2008; Inikori 2002; Williams 1944). Wealth derived from British slave-ownership has helped to enrich and sustain elite institutions, individuals and families and has sewn inequality deep into the fabric of British society (see Dorling and Tomlinson 2019). Britain’s healthcare system, welfare state, transportation infrastructure, cultural and educational institutions, though battered and unequally accessible, are nevertheless colonially derived.

As colonial populations fought the British from their territories, British lawmakers fast abandoned the myth of imperial unity and equality and moved to introduce controls targeted at racialised colonial subjects and Commonwealth citizens. Through the concept of patriality the 1971 Immigration Act had made whiteness intrinsic to British identity. Only patrials, those born in Britain or with a parent born in Britain, had a right of entry and stay in Britain. In 1971 a person born in Britain was most likely (98%) to be white (see Owen 1995). The 1981 Act continued this process of racial exclusion by constructing British citizenship on the foundation of patriality, tying citizenship to the right of entry and abode (Karatani 2002:185). A territorially distinct Britain and a concept of citizenship that made Britishness commensurate with whiteness made it clear that Britain, the landmass and everything within it, belongs to Britons, conceived intrinsically as white. The 1981 Act was an act of appropriation, a final seizure of the wealth and infrastructure secured through centuries of colonial conquest.

Understanding Britain as a contemporary colonial space serves to partially collapse the distinction between settler and non-settler colonial contexts. While it is now an accepted argument in critical scholarship that settler colonialism is ongoing and structural (for example, Coulthard 2014), the same critique has not been applied to non-settler forms of colonialism, which are considered to have ended. Yet, the border drawn around the spoils of British colonial conquest via immigration and nationality law amounts to colonial theft. Due to mainstream understandings of property as being fixed and immovable in space and time, theft via the passing of immigration controls can be difficult to conceptualise (see Cooper 2013; Keenan 2015). Colonial dispossession not only determined the contemporary distribution of material wealth, but also radically altered subjectivity in the sense of what people desire, consider themselves as entitled to and understand themselves to be (Fanon 1986). Theft of intangibles such as economic growth, life chances, psyches and futures occur in all colonial contexts, settler or otherwise.

The effect of the 1981 Act along with changes to immigration law was to put the wealth of Britain, gained via colonial conquest, out of reach for the vast majority of people racialised through colonial processes. Immigration law not only serves as the means of obstruction of movement – it is also the means through which legal status is granted. Regimes of legal status recognition whereby British authorities determine entitlement to citizenship, settlement and refugee status serve to legitimise the claim that colonial wealth belongs behind Britain’s borders, only to be accessed with permission.

Similar to the way in which indigenous people in Canada and Australia must submit to the rules and evidentiary standards of those colonial legal systems in order to be recognised as having enforceable rights to land (for example, Mabo and Others vs Queensland 1992), those with ancestral, geographical and personal histories of British colonialism who wish to access stolen colonial wealth and resources in Britain must submit to the rules and evidentiary standards of British immigration law. In this way the vast majority of racialised people are prevented from accessing Britain and its wealth in part through the operation of internal and external borders, produced and enforced through law.

The traditional acceptance of legal categories as defined in international and domestic law in and outside academia has the effect of concealing law’s role in producing racialised subjects and racial violence. It further impedes an understanding of law as racial violence. Addressing the historical contingency and artificiality of legal categories, the violence in their production and ongoing material effects allows us to understand how Britain remains colonially and racially configured. It also helps to mitigate against a liberal politics of recognition and opens the way for the development of emancipatory and reparative discourses and strategies for migrant solidarity and racial justice.

Legal status does not alter the way in which racialised people are cast in white spaces as undeserving guests, outsiders or intruders – as here today but always potentially gone tomorrow. Immigration law is, after all, the prop used to teach white British citizens that what Britain plundered from its colonies is theirs and theirs alone. Understanding that immigration law is an extension of colonialism enables us to question Britain’s claim to being a legitimately bordered, sovereign nation-state. If we, as critical scholars and activists, can imbibe a counter-pedagogy to that of immigration law and bordering, one which rejects the violence of legal categorisation and paves the way for a more empowering, redistributive and radical politics of racial justice, we can begin to work our way towards new strategies for organising collectively in the service of anti-racism and migrant solidarity. We should not wait for the law to rule on our entitlement to colonial spoils. A Britain understood as the spoils of empire already belongs to us.

Nadine El-Enany is Reader in Law at Birkbeck School of Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Research on Race and Law. She researches migration and refugee law and one of her current research projects focuses on questions of race and justice in death in custody cases. (B)ordering Britain: Law, Race and Empire (2020) is available from Manchester University Press.

A longer version of this blog post was originally published by Manchester University Press on 6th November 2019.

Intimate state encounters: Brexit, European Roma and contested home-lands

Race, nation and migration – the blog series reframing thinking on movement and racism.

By Rachel Humphris.

Brexit and the UK’s relationship with the European Union foregrounds questions of identity, nationhood and who is included or excluded. For those identified as ‘Roma’ these are perennial questions as purported ‘European citizenship’ made little difference to their position as Europe’s enduring ‘internal Other’, who have never and cannot ‘belong’ (Sardelić 2019). Roma are always positioned ‘in’ but never ‘of’ Europe. Often overlooked in histories of modern Europe, Roma have been enslaved, forcibly settled and sterilised, suffered state kidnap, and targeted during the Holocaust. Their current experiences continue to reveal the force of stigmatization and racialisation embedded in society, law and governance.

I came to a partial understanding of these experiences through spending 14 months living in Luton, UK, with ‘Romanian Roma’ families (a bureaucratic category used by frontline workers) with the aim of exploring migration, statecraft, race and urban marginalisation. Luton has suffered the brunt of ‘austerity localism’, post-welfare reforms, rising xenophobia, and the dehumanizing ‘hostile environment’ created to make living in the UK so difficult that migrants ‘self-deport’.

I observed the gendered and racialized effects of the hostile environment as migrant households were the subject of ubiquitous value judgements, targeted surveillance and an imposed racialized exceptionalism tending toward differential treatment premised on mythical assumptions (Stewart 2012). For example, mothers were judged on the food they ate, whether their front garden was tidy, the other people in the house (particularly men) who were not part of the ‘nuclear family’ and the disorienting rhythms of the domestic space, which did not map onto prevailing norms of domesticity, intimacy and intensive mothering. While these mothers have a particular experience, these processes are based in deep histories of surveillance and disciplining of the racialized and classed urban poor (Picker 2017).

However, I was also acutely aware that the frontline workers conducting home visits were themselves caught in the entanglements of a retreating welfare state and securitised migration apparatus. Casting aside the usual binary of social care/social control, these observations made me attend to the manifestations of ambivalence and uncertainty for migrant mothers and frontline workers. I shifted my emphasis from ‘state acts’ to ‘state encounters’ to open up the processual and relational quality of how states are made in practice and to account for emplaced and embodied positions of all social actors.

So while frontline workers determine the fate of new migrant families (potentially causing their deportation or state kidnap) they are themselves often racialized mothers, subject to migration control and invested in proving themselves as ‘good citizens’ resonating with Cohen’s (1999) notion of ‘advanced marginalisation’. They must negotiate their way through a complex, constantly shifting and messy terrain of migration policies, border policing and surveillance. They must reconcile these duties with their professional commitment to an ethics of care, often taking on work well beyond their formal role and the hours that they are paid (through processes of New Public Management they are employed in short-term, target driven, precarious contracts at the lowest end of the local state). They carry with them enormous and contradictory burdens, responsibilities and anxieties with the fate of new migrant families and their futures at times in their sole hands.

These intimate state encounters are one instance where decisions about who belongs and who deserves discretionary extra support rests on the strange and unsettling mingling of established categories. These citizenship decisions emerge at the intersection of public and private, formal and informal, political and personal. Drawing inspiration from Mbembe’s observations of colonial governance (2001: 28), this research showed that governing political belonging through the home space does more than confuse the public and private: it depends on and reproduces that confused space to ensure the continual reproduction of marginalisation based on raced, classed and gendered hierarchies.

As critical race, gender and queer scholars have long pointed out, the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is most fundamentally drawn in the intimate sphere. From British imperialism to the present day, racialized relations have come to be shaped and governed through intimacy (McClintock 1995; Stoler 1995). My work has tried to draw a line from these debates to the role of the family and the domestic in the contemporary UK state and how they relate to conceptions of nationhood, identity and belonging today.

The stories of new migrant mothers and those tasked to govern them are not often heard. Legal migration statuses are proliferating and becoming more precarious. Brexit seems unlikely to reverse the trend. Austerity is still biting hard and likely to continue in the current context of a stagnating economy and casualties of COVID-19. The privatisation of services is carrying on apace creating complex relationships in frontline provision.

Marginalised families, like the Roma in Luton, are more likely than ever to fall through the gaps or become subject to bordering, sometimes from those who have the best of intentions but work in a harsh and broken system. In this context, the most mundane everyday actions in the home become crucial for how families can secure a safe status in the home-land. This research raises fundamental questions about the types of homes – and the type of home-land – we want and what we need to change to achieve them.

Rachel Humphris is a Lecturer in Sociology and Politics at Queen Mary University of London. She is a political ethnographer whose research and teaching focuses on immigration and citizenship, urban governance, gender and race.

Home-Land: Romanian Roma, Domestic Spaces and the State (2019) is available from Bristol University Press.